hot rod lighting, classic car lighting

Shine a Light – A Guide to Modern Lights for Classics

In 1879, Thomas Edison filed a patent for his design of the incandescent light bulb. Who exactly gets the credit for the light bulb is arguable, but the point is that the technology was developed more than 140 years ago! The basic design and principle continued through the 21st century when Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology really joined the ranks of exterior lighting on OEM vehicles. Today, the performance aftermarket has really embraced LEDs, which are bringing a fresh look and many options to our hot rods and vintage vehicles.

There are several advantages to LEDs with two being extremely welcome on our classic cars and trucks. First, the lights are so much brighter and provide improved control of the overall lighting area. Second is that they require much less current compared to an incandescent light. Less current draw from the overtaxed alternator is a great coupled with brighter lighting. It’s a win-win!

Brighter headlights, especially in foul weather, add to your driving safety. And thanks to modern technology, upgrading to a set of LED taillight bulbs provides another safety benefit due to their improved brightness – especially for rods with small taillights. Several companies now offer retrofit systems with sequential and blinking brake lights for even more driver alertness.

We are seeing a lot more LED upgrades, especially on restomods and custom builds. You can find LED exterior lighting options for most classics and muscle cars, but it doesn’t stop there as there are instrument light upgrades, dome lights and plenty of unique accessory lighting to dress up your cruiser. Following are just a few of the cool lighting upgrades available.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, eddie motorsports taillightsEddie Motorsports

Look Better Stopping

It’s rare for an accessory to deliver trick looks and style while improving the safety of your car, but leave it to Eddie Motorsports to deliver the goods! Their new Billet Aluminum RS Taillight Bezels for ’69 Camaros provide a smooth, modern appearance thanks to the removal of the center bar and backup lamps. The result is a subtle modification that enhances the rear view of your Camaro.

The CNC-machined assemblies bolt right in place and can be used with the stock taillight bulbs, but the new one-piece lenses really glow with an LED conversion, grabbing the attention of any distracted drivers following behind you. The assemblies are machined in the USA and available in raw machined or a bright polished as well as a number of their Fusioncoat color options.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, painlessPainless Performance

Feeding the Beams

If you’ve stepped up your headlights to a set of H4 Halogens to improve your nighttime view, it’s a good idea to make sure they safely get all the power they need. Old wiring harnesses weren’t designed to handle the current that these lights require, so Painless Performance came up with a simple kit to get those new lamps to glow – and do it safely.

The H4 Halogen Relay Harness draws power directly from the battery through a relay to safely power those Halogen sealed beam lights. The Relay Kit is supplied with everything you’ll need including two weatherproof 40-amp relays, heavy gauge wiring with the headlight connectors already in place. There is also a 30-amp fuse (capable of handling up to 150 watts) and as usual, Painless makes the installation as easy as their namesake.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, UP headlights, United Pacific head lightsUnited Pacific

Five in a Seven

New cars have some cool headlight combinations thanks to the use of LEDs and in the last few years, several companies, such as United Pacific, have been bringing this advantage to our classic trucks and hot rods. Upgrading your cruiser to LED headlights isn’t purely for aesthetics – these modern lamps will also light up the road better making driving at night and during inclement weather safer.

One of United Pacific’s most popular headlight updates is their 7-inch Ultralit dual function headlight (right). This assembly features five high-powered LEDs that are housed in an attractive assembly with a reinforced aluminum reflector. hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, LED tail lights, LED taillights, squarebody tail lightsThe lights were designed with anti-vibration construction and will provide a whiter light output with improved brightness while only pulling 1.7 amps, or 2.6 max for the brights! These 7-inch lights, PN 31391, happen to fit all generation of C10s with round headlights.

LED taillamps (left) not only add a custom flair, but they’re also much brighter than the original incandescent lights, which increases safety. This squarebody example from United Pacific is a sequential LED design that should easily alert any drivers following behind.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, summit lightsSummit Racing

Light the Summit

If you’re out exploring some backwoods trails and roads at night, it’s best to be prepared with some durable, bright lights. Summit Racing offers a number of different Off-Road Lights to keep you safe and on the right path. These lights feature high-quality white or ultra-white LED chips with durable polycarbonate lenses for protection, all built into a durable, aluminum housing.

The lights are available in two 3.25-inch square housings while round assemblies are offered in a 3.25-, 5- and 7-inch diameters. The Summit Racing LED Off-Road Lights are sold in pairs and some are available with a wiring harness, light switch, and mounting brackets.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, dapper lightingDapper Lighting

Replace and Revive

If you’re looking to simply upgrade the bulbs of your taillamps and/or the front running lights, the crew at Dapper Lighting has you covered. Their Revive line of interior/exterior LED replacement bulbs are exactly what you’re looking for to achieve brighter, more striking lighting (and with less current draw). These powerful LED assemblies can provide more than five times the light of a standard incandescent bulb.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, dapper lightingThe Revive bulbs are available for most automotive sizes and are available in white, red, amber, blue, red, and switchback. The bulbs are designed for plug-and-play installation, though some applications will require an LED flasher, especially if you’re doing all four corners. Also, if you’re looking to update your headlamps, Dapper offers a vast line of high quality, modern lighting for most classic cars.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, speedway brake lightsSpeedway Motors

Old Looks, Bright LEDs

Speedway Motors understands classic hot rodding and achieving that fine balance between old-school charm with modern technology. An example is their flush-mount taillamp assemblies. The assembly secures 14 LED bulbs that glow bright when you’re on the brakes to improve the safety of your hot rod or custom.

These lights are designed with deeper steel buckets so builders can trim them to match body contours and french the lights into the body panels. The assembly is framed by a billet aluminum trim ring and capped with a domed Model T lens. Speedway provides a rubber mount and gasket along with the pigtail and connectors for the LED circuit board.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, LED head lights

Even when the headlights are off, new LED designs and styles will alter and update the appearance of your car.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, oracle headlightsOracle Lighting

Halos for Classics

Update your headlights while adding a touch of flair with Oracle Lighting’s sealed beam halo replacements. Available in a variety of sizes, Oracle’s headlights feature a crystal-clear glass lens, a composite reflector housing, and a vibrant halo pre-installed into the light.

The halo lights are available in a single color or you can go with their ColorSHIFT technology to have the halo change from red to green to blue! Want a fully upgraded look? The headlamp assembly accepts H4 bulbs or you can choose LED upgrades to increase the light output for improved visibility while also eliminating the dingy yellow hue of older bulbs.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, WatsonsWatson’s StreetWorks


Watson’s StreetWorks is known for all sorts of trick switches, latches, and other cool accessories to help street rodders finish their cars right. With a lot of experience in electronics and lighting, the company has the perfect kit to help update your classic or muscle car to LED technology.

Their 1157 LED Replacement kit includes a pair of red 1157 LED taillights and a pair of amber 1157 LED park/turn lights, plus the required two-prong digital flasher. These super-bright LED bulbs put out colored light from four sides as well as a fifth LED on the tip. They have a unique lower brightness park light circuit (still plenty bright) and a much brighter brake/turn circuit to grab the attention of surrounding drivers.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, LOKARLokar

Gear Lights

Leave it to the detail-oriented team at Lokar to develop a new line of LED gear indicators. These aren’t just a basic “point at a gear number” indicators, as each letter of the indicator can be programmed in six different colors and brightness levels!
The kits are available in a variety of applications for dash mounts to shifter boot ring mounts and even come in vertical and horizontal orientations. The indicators, as well as the integrated boot ring indicators, are available in brushed or black anodized finishes.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, LED headlights

LED technology has created new ways to personalize your hot rod. These illuminated side markers could pass for a factory option on this ’57 Chevy.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, bob drakeBob Drake

Ford Lights

When you’re building an early Ford, you can pretty much count on needing to replace everything from lenses to gaskets, retaining clips to bezels, buckets and more. One source for these hard-to-find parts is Bob Drake, a company steeped in licensed, true-to-original Ford restoration parts.

For anyone working on a ’40 Ford project or up to ’41 pickup, you’ll find new headlight bucket assemblies, LED parking lights, new headlamps, and even conduit to route the wires. One trick little item is a kit to remove the original parking light from the top of the bezel and place it inside the headlamp assembly. This provides a unique appearance with the lights but maintains a stock look. The Turn Signal Conversion Kit is supplied with two amber bulbs and sockets, vintage wiring, terminals and retainers to complete the job.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, kc lightsKC

Trail Six

If you’re looking for accessory lighting for your classic off-road rig (or brand new one), KC has you covered. KC has been outfitting 4x4s for more than 50 years with trailblazing lighting and they are still going strong with lightbars, fog lights, LEDs, and headlights for just about any application.

Their 6-inch LED Daylighters are a perfect addition to a classic 4×4 and are instantly recognizable with their classic bright yellow KC covers. The lights are based on a race-proven steel housing filled with their G6 LED optical inserts that will light up the trails or dark back roads (while pulling less than 2 amps). Durable hard-coated polycarbonate lenses protects the lighting and are available in a Spot Beam for maximum distance or a Driving Beam to enhance street driving visibility.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, Putco LEDPutco

360° Metal

With more than two decades of experience in the lighting industry, Putco, Inc. knows what it takes to create a durable, brilliant light. Their Metal 360° LED bulbs will make your vehicle more visible to other drivers while the cleaner, brighter light is much more attractive.

hot rod lighting, classic car lighting, putco LEDThese bulbs are built around a large base with a solid aluminum frame and a copper core for efficient heat control and powerful light output. The 15 LEDs are arranged in a manner to emit light in a full 360-degree pattern. The bulbs have a lifespan of up to 50,000 hours and are backed by a one-year warranty.

Todd Ryden is first and foremost a car guy and admits to how lucky he is to have been able to build a career out of a hobby that he enjoys so much. He’s owned muscle cars and classics, raced a bit and has cruised across the country. With over 25 years in the industry from the manufacturing and marketing side to writing books and articles, he just gets it.